Tag Archives: martial arts

Samurai Champloo

Samurai ChamplooType: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Historical Martial Arts / Drama
Vintage: 2004

Version reviewed: English Dubbed / Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review:
31 Dec 2007

Grade: B

Director Shinichiro Watanabe revisits and reinvents his formula that worked with such success for Cowboy Bebop. This time, the Feudal Samurai Drama meets Underground Hip-Hop.

Plot Summary
Fate has brought three unlikely companions together: Mugen, a loose cannon; Jin, a silent and contemplative samurai; Fuu, a tea-house attendant. Mugen and Jin quickly get into a conflict amongst themselves and vow to kill each other. Fuu intervenes and insists that the two put off their duel and act as her bodyguards as she goes on a journey across Japan to find a samurai who smells of sunflowers.

The Review
Once more, two unlikely elements come together to make a series that defies expectations and becomes undefinable itself. While Cowboy Bebop found Shinichiro Watanabe combining space, the old American west, and jazz, Samurai Champloo brings together Japan before its emergence from world isolation in the 1800s with modern underground hip-hop.

The overall story of the series is Fuu’s search for the Sunflower Samurai, who she knows nothing of except his scent. However, it is still episodic in nature with only a few stories that take multiple episodes to tell, including the three-part finale.

Being a series that takes place in feudal Japan, it should come as little surprise that action is a primary focus of Samurai Champloo. You can’t very well have a series about Samurai without swordfights, and they are plentiful here. This is a well-rounded series though, so drama gets a nearly equal share of time here, and there is also a unique humor that shows up often. One of the subtle narratives of the series is the constant quest for the next meal, along with Fuu’s seemingly bottomless stomach – ironic considering that she’s a small girl of about fifteen years of age. Fuu also has a little flying squirrel as a companion, so even a series as serious as this can still have a mascot and not lose any of its edge.

The soundtrack works surprisingly well, though those who are not as familiar with underground hip-hop, and instrumental hip-hop in particular, may find it a bit odd. On the humorous side, there are some great anachronisms in the series. Fuu carries a pouch that could easily be mistaken as a cell phone complete with charms. She also wears platform sandals. Then there are the beatboxing villagers and graffiti artists. Yet somehow, it all seems to work.

So, while not your typical samurai drama, Samurai Champloo is a great series that plays like a reinvention of Cowboy Bebop. Comparisons are almost inevitable, but Samurai Champloo does stand out on its own as a fine series that I’d recommend to fans of samurai or Watanabe’s work.

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Jubei-chan 2: The Counterattack of Siberia Yagyu

Jubei-chan 2: The Counterattack of Siberia YagyuType: TV Series
Episode Count: 13
Genre: Comedy / Action / Drama
Vintage: 2004

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 23 Nov 2006

Grade: B

Jiyu Nanohana is back for more adventures of trying not to be Jubei Yagyu! And this time, there’s a rival.

Plot Summary
A year after the events in the first series, Jiyu Nanohana is happily spending ninth grade being a normal girl, with none of that transforming into a legendary ninja warrior business which followed her all of the previous year. This all changes when a Russian exchange student named Freesia joins Jiyu’s class suspiciously around the same time that another ninja has appeared who also claims to be Jubei Yagyu the Second. This second Jubei proclaims Jiyu an impostor and demands that the Lovely Eyepatch be returned to her.

The Review
Akitaroh Daichi has a way with stories. Jubei-chan 2 could easily have been a rehash of the first installment, but Daichi’s sense of humor makes this series an entirely new experience, though you’ll be sure to be reminded that it’s a sequel. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jubei-chan once again provides an incredibly bipolar experience, split between frantic comedy and ninja action. Also once again, as different as these two aspects of the show are, Akitaroh Daichi makes it work. None of the comic relief – even when in the middle of an intense ninja battle – seems out of place or contrived. If you liked Jubei-chan the first time around, you will absolutely enjoy this second installment. Added to the mix this time is a second lead in the form of Freesia, the Russian exchange student. The relationship she builds with Jiyu plays a very important role in the series, and gives it the dramatic touch that rounds out the show.

It is possible to watch this series without having seen the first, but watching the first before this one is highly recommended for two reasons. Secondary characters were introduced in the first series, and in Jubei-chan 2, there are multiple times when the characters talk about their role in the first series. Literally. Akitaroh Daichi has self-referential humor down to an art form here.

While this is primarily a comedy, if you’re looking for an action fix, you’re also in for a treat. Daichi had said after completing the first Jubei-chan that he thought the action sequences could have been done even better. In this series he had the chance to deliver even better choreographed action, and did so quite successfully. The action scenes in Jubei-chan 2 would be right at home in a martial arts film.

If you’re looking for a comedy with action in it, or an action title with comedy in it, check out Jubei-chan!

Jubei-chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch

Jubei-chan: Secret of the Lovely EyepatchType: TV Series
Episode Count: 13
Genre: Comedy / Action / Drama
Vintage: 1999

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 02 May 2006

Grade: B

Off-the-wall craziness that could only come from the mind of Akitaroh Daichi.

Plot Summary
Jiyu Nanohana is a regular perky 8th grader. She’s just moved to a new town, and things get off to a weird start. Koinosuke, attendant of the legendary swordsman Jubei Yagyu, has been waiting 300 years to find Jubei’s heir with the only clue being “plump, bouncy, bon-bons” as foretold by Jubei on his deathbed, and present the Lovely Eyepatch to this heir. Unfortunately for Jiyu, Koinosuke finds her and decides that she meets the description, and presents Jiyu the Lovely Eyepatch, which she flatly refuses. At that moment, a member of the Ryujoji clan – sworn rival and enemy of Jubei who carry a 300 year old grudge from their defeat – challenges her to a duel in the forest. Against her wishes, Jiyu puts on the Lovely Eyepatch and is transformed into the legendary Jubei Yagyu. Now she must try to live a normal life while being forced to take Jubei Yagyu’s form with repeated challenges from the Ryujoji clan who wish to eliminate Jubei and rule Japan.

The Review
There are shows that throw everything and the kitchen sink at them with varying degrees of success, and then there’s Akitaroh Daichi. Jubei-chan is both a high school comedy and a samurai drama. One minute, you’re rolling on the floor from humor and jokes that come from all sides, and the next you’re watching the swordplay of samurai and ninja battling in the forest. Did I mention that the two sides of this show are linked by a Magical Girl transformation sequence? No, I’m not kidding.

Jubei-chan is a semi-parody of the Japanese samurai drama drawing from the real-life Japanese legend of master swordsman Jubei Yagyu, complete with cinematic references and overscripted introductions from characters. On the other side of the coin, Daichi’s style of comedy simply has to be seen. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and comes at you with a hyper pace. Animation styles shift without warning, characters look at the show’s title card, and references are often made by characters of their role within the show. Most of all, the show doesn’t take itself seriously. The later episodes are where it shows its heart, with an overall theme of friendship and remembering to value the people close to you. This makes for a somewhat sentimental angle to a show otherwise going between two extremes in its presentation. For all of its random comedy and high action duels, Jubei-chan has a big heart.

Jubei-chan is my first step in going further into Akitaroh Daichi’s catalog; Animation Runner Kuromi was my first exposure to Daichi, and that OVA is what prompted me to look into more of his work. I can say that Daichi is probably my favorite comedic anime director. With any luck, Fruits Basket and Kodocha will soon be in my collection, since if this and Kuromi are any indication, Akitaroh Daichi knows how to have fun with a series.